The First Manufactured Rock Band: The Monkees

The Adventures of the "Pre-Fab Four"

The Monkees
The Monkees. source: retrocrush.com

Who were The Monkees?

The first rock band specifically created by a record company, The Monkees were designed as the "American Beatles" -- although their token heartthrob was a Brit -- and their career was designed to replicate the wacky fun of the movie A Hard Day's Night every week on an equally wacky musical sitcom. In the Sixties this was considered the epitome of selling out, but the group rebelled and proved itself talented musicians as well as comic actors.

 

The Monkees' most popular songs:

Where you might have heard them: "I'm a Believer" was featured in a cover version at the end of the movie Shrek, and has since exploded all over the place, being featured in several movies and TV shows, but "Goin' Down" also made a pointed appearance during one of the meth lab montages in "Breaking Bad," and "Daydream Believer," by far their most durable hit, has always been a mainstay of oldies pop radio. "Porpoise Song" was also featured in one of those blackout "Mad Men" credit sequences.

Formed 1965 (Los Angeles, CA)

Styles Pop, Pop-rock, Rock and Roll, Psychedelia, Bubblegum, Country-rock

The members of the Monkees:

Michael Nesmith (b. Robert Michael Nesmith, December 30, 1942, Houston, TX): vocals, guitar
Micky Dolenz (b.

George Micheal Dolenz, Jr., March 8, 1945, Los Angeles, CA): vocals, drums
Davy Jones (b. David Thomas Jones, December 30, 1945, Manchester, England; died February 29, 2012; Indiantown, FL): vocals, tambourine
Peter Tork (b. Peter Halsten Thorkelson (b. February 13, 1942, Washington, D.C.): vocals, guitar, keyboards

Claims to fame:

  • The first live-action prime time television show to feature a rock and roll band
  • Advanced the careers of several Brill Building songwriters, including a young and struggling Neil Diamond
  • Invented the television music video
  • Produced at least one unique solo talent in Michael Nesmith, who played a large hand in inventing "country-rock"
  • Their 1968 cult film Head is considered by many to be a surreal masterpiece of entertainment business parody
  • Arguably the most lovable of Sixties pop groups
  • The first group to introduce the synthesizer on record

History of the Monkees

Early years

MADNESS!! Auditions. Folk & Roll musicians-singers for acting roles in new TV series. Running parts for 4 insane boys, age 17 - 21. So ran the ad placed in Variety by producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, looking to make an American TV version of the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night film. 437 auditions later, the pair had four boys, two of whom were musicians and all with some TV, stage, or studio work under their belts. On September 12, 1966, the show aired, and within two months the band's flagship single, "Last Train To Clarksville," sat at Number One.

Success

The weekly NBC show became a huge hit, but the manufactured nature of the project led many to question the group's authenticity as a "real band" (despite the fact that many groups recorded using session musicians and didn't write most of their own material).

Soon, the backlash caused the group's members to rebel, fighting to complete an album entirely on their own (Headquarters) and to tour behind their hits. By 1968, however, the series was canceled due to poor ratings, and the group attempted to shed its teenybopper image entirely with the combative and psychedelic film Head.

Later years

For several reasons, Head flopped, and the band soon broke up one member at a time; Nesmith went on to a solid career in his own right as a singer and pioneer in the burgeoning video movement. In 1986, a marathon of Monkees episodes on MTV resuscitated the group overnight, although it would be a few years before all four would reunite. Over the last twenty years, the original members have reunited on stage and record off and on, with varying degrees of success.

The TV show is still shown in many markets, and their hit singles continue to be a staple of oldies radio.

More About the Monkees

Other facts:

  • The bass on many of the Monkees' later songs was provided by producer Chip Douglas, who had played bass with the Turtles
  • Contrary to rumor, Charles Manson did not audition for the group, although Stephen Stills did
  • Nesmith's mother did indeed invent the formula for what would become Liquid Paper
  • The group infamously used Jimi Hendrix as an opening act on their 1967 tour
  • Micky Dolenz voiced Arthur on the cartoon series The Tick
  • Michael Nesmith pioneered the idea for the format that would eventually become MTV
  • Beatles George Harrison and John Lennon were both very vocal about their love of the group and its TV show

Monkees Awards and Honors Emmy Awards (1967, 1968), Hollywood Walk of Fame (6675 Hollywood Blvd.)

Monkees Hit Singles and Albums:

#1 hits:
Pop: "Last Train To Clarksville" (1966), "I'm a Believer" (1966), "Daydream Believer" (1967)

Top 10 hits
Pop: "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" (1967), "Pleasant Valley Sunday" (1967), "Valleri" (1968)

#1 albums
Pop: The Monkees (1966), More of the Monkees (1967), Headquarters (1967), Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (1967)

Top 10 albums
Pop: The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees (1968)

Notable covers Smash Mouth's cover of "I'm a Believer" at the end of the original Shrek film brought the original back to a whole new generation of fans; Anne Murray had a US Top 10 hit with her 1979 soft-rock cover of "Daydream Believer"; The Sex Pistols routinely made an unironic tribute to "Steppin' Stone" a feature of their raucous concerts

Movies and TV The Monkees followed up the flop of 1968's Head with an April 1969 NBC special called "33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee," an even bigger flop which found the band's self-hate devolving into self-pity, bracketed by some completely bizarre performances; it effectively ended the band. Michael Nesmith later became a pioneer in the world of music video, forming a company called Pacific Arts and releasing a groundbreaking and award-winning long-form video called Elephant Parts; it's now seen as a direct precursor to MTV.

Davy Jones became a staple of teen TV in the early '70s, making notable appearances as himself on "The Brady Bunch" and "The New Scooby-Doo Movies." Dolenz later found a second career as a voiceover artist, his most notable role being the Tick's sidekick, Arthur, on the original FOX animated version of "The Tick"